JessB is in full ‘Bloom’

JESSB is arguably one of the most exciting names in hip-hop right now. The New Zealand rapper put out her debut EP Bloom last year, backed it up with a few videos, shows all over and has since gained props from Zane Lowe and tonight, she’ll be performing at Splendour In The Grass‘ opening night.

She’s been taking the world by storm with her relentless flow and high-energy, something that’s translated into every aspect of her work. Her video clips are accented with colour wherever possible, and in the same vein, her tracks are representative of her varying loves as a musician, injecting bouts of dancehall, downtempo hip-hop, bass and more into her sound.

JessB is currently gearing up to release her forthcoming EP New Views next month. In a similar vein to Bloom, the EP in her own words is “a further extension of the first project in terms of me continuing to solidify what I believe is my sound and finding my lane.”

Finding her lane has been a massive part of her journey this past year, and with a solid community backing her back home in Auckland, it’s only a matter of time before she undoubtedly becomes a hip-hop staple in Australia and NZ.

We caught up with JessB while she was in Sydney last week for a chat and some snaps. Catch her tonight at Red Bull Presents A Night With from 7:20PM – 7:50PM.

Where did rap begin for you?

As a kid, in intermediate school was when I first started really taking an interest in it myself and downloading songs off Limewire of my own accord. Do you know what I mean? It was when I actively started listening to hip-hop myself. As my interest grew, I started working on my own tracks around high school.

Did you have a group of people around you that were pursuing music similarly to you?

No, not at all. I connected to hip-hop when I was really young, and then when I was in high school, my friends used to gas me up. You know, I’d make raps for them, and it kind of became a thing. When I started going to parties when I was like 15 or 16, I’d be hanging out with dudes who just liked hip-hop as well, and so they were the first group of people who encouraged me in that way.

Auckland has a small music community, but do you find that it’s a really encouraging community?

Yeah, definitely. It’s a growing community too, so there are more and more people coming onto the scene. Especially when I first started getting out there and playing gigs, everyone was really supportive. I found it really easy to get to know people and work with people, and we started getting on the same lineups. I’m really friendly with everyone back home.

How has it been being able to reach an international audience knowing you’ve got such a strong base back home?

Having a foundation or a base like where you’re from is really important, so I feel like it’s very important in the journey that you start at home and build connections as best as you can. I’ll always have love for the people who helped me back home first, because that’s when it really matters. Honestly, something that’s actually quite small becomes the biggest stepping stone on the way.

How do you think the Auckland scene has changed since your career started?

It’s becoming more and more diverse. I think the digitisation of music now and the fact that it doesn’t cost thousands of dollars to go into a studio, anyone with an interest in music can go and buy the equipment. It’s breeding a lot more widespread talent I think because anyone can have a go and be good. It’s really exciting. There’s obviously quite a few acts who are starting to do well in the context of Australia or overseas.

After the P Money and Scribe era in the early 2000’s, I think that the scene was a bit quiet. There were obviously still amazing artists, but I’ve seen this resurgence of people getting props in big ways outside of New Zealand.

It’s similar here too, we had a low period where there wasn’t much hip-hop, and then there was a huge resurgence. Now, it’s cool to see Australian and New Zealand artists all over the world. It’s sick to see people like Zane Lowe are giving you props too, that must have felt really good.

That was really exciting. It’s easy to start doubting yourself and second guessing everything, so it’s nice to have words of encouragement here and there.

There’s a lyric in your new track, ‘Mood’, that really stuck out to me: “Keeping that mood for the rest of the year”. That’s been a big thing for me going into this year, being consistent. How do you keep energetic and what is it that continues to motivate you in your music?

How do I stay energetic? I don’t know if I know. People say that I have a crazy amount of energy, but I don’t really know where it comes from. I think that when I genuinely find something exciting or it motivates me or I find it inspiring, finding the energy to do the things that I want to do comes naturally and easily because I don’t see any of this as a chore. Even though there’s a lot of hard work that goes into all aspects of having a music career, I love all of it. In terms of keeping the same energy or the same mood, it’s just about choosing the vision and just remaining true to that.

A lot of people don’t realise how much work goes into a project. You’re in that kind of cusp period now where you’re breaking internationally. 

It’s crazy how much work goes into it. Especially for me being independent, everything that I do kind of has to be off my own back and my own finances. Since the last EP dropped over a year ago, I’ve pretty much been working on the next one and everything takes that little bit longer, like achieving the sounds that I want, because I’ve got to self-source everything. But, I love it..

What can you tell me about the new EP?

It’s called New Views. It’s out on August 9, very soon.

I guess for me, I would just call it a further extension of the first project in terms of me continuing to solidify what I believe is my sound and finding my lane. I think that everything has kind of taken a step up. For me personally, as an artist, I feel like my skills and the way that I approach writing has developed and grown since the last EP. Also things like production and features, I feel like they’re all of a really high quality, so I’m quite excited about it.

All of the sounds are cohesive, but none of them are the same. I wanted to be able to touch on each sound that I wanted to get on there, from like your classic hip-hop to more of a melodic jam, and then dancehall based sounds. I wanted to incorporate everything that I love doing into the EP, so as to not limit myself.

What makes a good collaboration to you?

Having a personal rapport with someone is very important, especially if you’re in the studio together and you’re genuinely both vibing, I feel like what comes out of that is generally good quality, because you’re both into what’s going on. I also think that musically, people need to be able to relate to the sound and the messages that you’re creating. There’d be some artists that would never have me as a feature on their song but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love their stuff or that they don’t like mine, it’s just that musically, people can be quite different. There’s very specific things about artists that I feel fit with the way that I rap and make music.

It must feel good finding that, when it clicks.

Yeah, it’s been really exciting.

It’s been great seeing your rise as an artist, particularly seeing more women of colour having a really strong voice and being able to project that internationally. It’s important to see. What’s the most important thing to you about having your platform?

I think for me, I’m inspired by the fact that I didn’t have anyone like me to look at growing up, in New Zealand and Australia. Obviously, in the United States there were amazing female rappers doing their thing and were the reason why I started rapping, but in terms of having people to look at in New Zealand – not just in terms of like music, but just in general. I didn’t really feel like I had those role models around me, and so I feel like visibility in general and just being someone who is authentically themselves and non-apologetic about it, is really important for the next generation to look at. It’s not about being an angel in the way that you do things and claiming that you’re some amazing role model for kids, but it’s more about just being real.

Sometimes it’s just about being there. I know I took so much motivation from people like Lady6 who was a woman who was doing hip-hop. For me, in New Zealand as a kid looking at her, you really do subconsciously take a lot from that, without her even having to do anything and me even realising.

Creating spaces and pushing space is something that’s really important to you. What do you think those who aren’t a person of colour or those who have bigger voices can do to make space?

We need spaces for us by us. Sometimes it’s not about people who are not part of the demographic being the saviour and coming and swooping in and helping it, it’s about stepping aside and allowing those things to happen organically and being an ally and supporter of it without becoming involved to the point where you’re taking up the space. Obviously we need allyship in both areas and we need people who are going to champion and support what we’re doing, especially if people have a big voice or more power in situations than we do, but I guess it’s being mindful and listening to what the needs and wants are of a particular group.

It’s been a really big year for you. What have been some of the important things that you’ve learned this year?

As an artist, I’m learning that whatever you’re doing, make that your thing and keep going. Don’t waver. There are always going to be people that fuck with you and people that don’t, but the people that don’t fuck with you shouldn’t never make you change the way that you’re doing things. The people that fuck with you are fucking with you because of the way that you do things. For every one person who doesn’t like what I’m doing, there’s another person who does. I feel like I’m still learning to be strong in who I am as a person and then that translates into me being an artist and my music. Being proud and standing strong in who I am as a person translates into my music career quite a lot.

Travelling has been a huge influence on my overall views of how I want to live my life. You know, going to places like London where there’s blueprints for people of colour or queer people that are already in motion and are working really well, it was super inspiring to get to come home and apply those things.

Which is why we started a party back home called Filth which was inspired by a party in London called Pussy Palace. That sort of stuff is really exciting.

That’s really cool that you’re able to take what you’ve learned back to your community and apply it.

Yeah, it’s just a starting point. Me and my DJ, Half Queen, we started it together. We felt like there was something lacking in the scene in Auckland of something like that, so we were like well, guess we have to do it.

Does the energy in the room at a Filth party feel different to other parties around?

Yeah, absolutely. We’ve tried to be very clear about what the party is, what it’s for and why we’re doing it. That automatically filters out a lot of riff raff.

Parties with intent seem to be where things are heading.

Yeah, it comes back to the same thing about standing in the truth of whatever it is. If you’re doing a queer party, then do it well. If you’re doing a punk party, do it well. You kind of have to find the framework for whatever it is that you’re doing. We decided that before we even had the party. We decided why we were throwing it and what rules we wanted and what we wanted the space to be. We wrote it up as a big manifesto, and then when we’re throwing the party, we go back to what we wrote and ask ourselves, are we doing this right? Are we fulfilling what we’ve created? I think that’s really important to keep checking yourself.

You’ll be performing at Red Bull Presents A Night With at Splendour In The Grass on Thursday night.

I’ve been to the festival once, but we didn’t go the first night.

What have you got planned for your set?

I think because this is a new crowd and a new group of people, it’s going to be about killing it. I’m only coming over with a DJ, I couldn’t afford to bring all of the bells and whistles, so it’s going to be pretty basic in terms of the setup. I think that I can bring enough energy. I might ask Jesswar if she wants to come up for a song.

Words by CAITLIN MEDCALF

READ MORE INTERVIEWS HERE

SEE ALSO

OUR TOP PICKS FOR THIS YEAR’S SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS
CONNECT WITH SAMPA THE GREAT & HER COMMUNITY IN HER ‘OMG’ CLIP
JESSWAR SHARES WITH US HER RAP HEROES

About:

No idea where she’ll be in 10 years, but as long as she has a good record and a glass of white wine, she’ll be sweet.